Perturbed over the arrest of an eminent scientist who opposed eviction of slum dwellwers in Kolkata, a group of scientists has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decrying West Bengal government's action and sought his immediate intervention.
A number of scietists from across the country and some parts of the world have written to Singh voicing concern on the "crack down on human rights activists and citizens who are attempting to raise issues of concern".
They have signed a letter that has condemned the police action against Ambikesh Mahapatra, the Jadavpur chemistry professor, and Partho Sarothi Ray, a molecular biologist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Mohanpur.
While Mahapatra was arrested for circulating a cartoon depicting West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Ray was among those taken into custody for protesting against the eviction of slum dwellers in Nonadanga area of East Kolkata.
"There also seems to be a clear message to others not to raise voices of dissent. This has implications for not only this series of events in Kolkata but also for democracy," said the letter signed by activists Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Massachussetts Institute of Technology professors Noam Chomsky, Mrigangka Sur, Abha Sur, scientists of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, IITs among others.
Ray is an established researcher in the field of molecular biology whose findings have been published in world class journals, the letter said.
He is also a faculty of IISER Kolkata, one of the most select institutions of higher learning in India, it said.
The signatories also include scientists from the Indian Association of the Cultivation of Science, the SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Calcutta and other academic institutions in India, the US, Denmark, Singapore and Sweden.
Mahapatra was charged with attempts to outrage the modesty of chief minister Mamata after he allegedly circulated clips of an Internet joke.
Ray, the scientists have said in their letter, is being detained on "false" charges related to protests against the evictions on April 4 as he was not even present in Calcutta but had participated in a faculty meeting at IISER on that date.
They demanded that all the charges against Ray be dropped and the slum eviction matter be inquired into so that no human rights violations are allowed.
"While spaces should be made to protect such voices of conscience -- especially when they come from those who hold positions of eminence in various fields, we find that the apparatus of the State is using the law and modes of intimidation to stifle such voices," the letter said.
"We write to you to strongly urge you to personally intervene to resolve the matter immediately before it snowballs into something that will be a major embarrassment and blow to this nation and its democratic culture," the letter said.